Study: Seeing Successful Black People Makes Non-Blacks Deny Racism

By Albert Lin


Simmons, Morrison, Frazier

According to a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, incidental exposure to a Black person who is successful in a nonstereotypical setting (for example, former Brown University President Ruth Simmons or Nobel Prizewinning author Toni Morrison) is enough to make people more likely to believe that systemic racism does not exist.

“People shifted the blame from vestiges of racism in America to problems in Black communities,” co-author Clayton Critcher told The Huffington Post.

Authors Critcher, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jane Risen, of the University of Chicago, presented several hundred participants with a series of photos of somewhat famous people. In most cases, all the images were of white men and women. However, a control group was shown pictures that included equivalent Black peoplefor example, Merck & Co. Chairman, President and CEO Kenneth Frazier in place of Lockheed Martin Executive Chairman Robert Stevens.

Subjects were then asked their opinion on the role of race in America, and whether they felt race influences workplace success. Researchers found that whites, Latinos and Asians who were part of the control groupi.e., they saw images of successful Black people in “counterstereotypical domains””drew an automatic inference that race was not a success-inhibiting factor in modern society.”

Subjects who were shown images of Black basketball players or singersmore “traditional” areas of African-American successwere not as likely to deny the existence of systemic racism.

Still, most participants said that their beliefs about race and discrimination would not change based on seeing a single Black person’s success. Critcher believes that this unconscious denial of racism affects economic and social policy, such as the recent push to eliminate affirmative action.

“The bias is insidious,” he said. “People weren’t even aware that their beliefs had shifted. That can make it even harder to correct.”

Racism is still very much alive in America, as DiversityInc readers know. And the workplace is not immune: A recent study showed that many employers avoid hiring Blacks because of the assumption that Blacks do drugs.

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